Happy New Year’s Eve Eve, everyone! This is my last blog post of 2015 so I thought I would post about a subject that will definitely be influencing my choices in 2016. I wouldn’t say it’s a New Years resolution so much as a lifestyle change. Which in my opinion is one of the best ways to really stick to positive changes in your life.
I had been looking for some motivation to start reducing my waste as well as reduce excess use of resources. I’ve always felt that I was environmentally conscious, but when I take a hard look at my habits, I know this is not the case. Whether it’s all of the different beauty products I use daily, each purchased in a box with a separate paper for written instruction and packaged in a plastic container or the produce I feed my children, individually wrapped organic sweet potatoes or apples packed in a plastic bag, it all adds up to a lot of waste. I hate to admit it, but I also stopped recycling out of convenience. Our apartment community stopped providing recycling bins so instead of driving to the nearest collection center (35 minutes away) or looking for another option, I just started taking everything to the trash compactor. Throwing away 3 kitchen trash bags per week plus boxes and shipping materials from Amazon purchases made me feel guilty, but not guilty enough to make a change.
About a month ago, I got an emailed from the library that a couple of the books I had put on hold in October were now available to check out. Among the five titles of various topics was “Zero Waste Home” by Bea Johnson. Described as “the ultimate guide to simplifying your life by reducing waste”, I couldn’t wait to dive in, learn Bea’s tips, and start making some changes in my life. As a made by way through the chapters, divided up by areas of the home, I quickly noticed how zero waste translates to less stuff and more money. If you’re not already down to save the environment, at the very least most people are down to save some money. Here are some of the tips I picked up and how they equate to less expenses:
Kitchen & Grocery Shopping
– Simplifying the number of kitchen appliances and gadgets used means you can either sell what you already own or never purchase it in the first place. Do you REALLY need wineglass charms for every holiday? The answer is no.
– Only owning reusable, durable kitchen items like glass storage containers, silicone freezer bags, and microfiber towels means you will not be purchasing these items on a regular basis. Even if you buy the bulk 24 pack of paper towels for $25, you will run out in about a year. Spend $15 on 24 microfiber towels, and you will maybe consider replacing them after three years.
– Buy a fancy glass or aluminum water bottle for $25, a faucet water filter for another $25, and never purchase plastic water bottles ever again. If you consume 1 plastic bottle per day, these purchases will pay for themselves in less than a year. We change out our faucet filter every six months and recycle it for free through Terracycle.
– Head to the bulk bin with your reusable bags or containers to save up to 75% on sugar, flour, dried fruit, you name it. Not only are you paying for the packaging on your cereal, but you are paying for the name brand associated with it. Have the store weigh your empty container prior to use and write the tare (weight) on the bottom with a permanent marker. Use a washable crayon to write the item number on the side of the container after you fill it. In the southern states I have seen bulk bins at Publix, Whole Foods, Earth Fare, and Sprouts.
– Sign up a CSA (community supported agriculture) to save on fresh produce. Most CSAs are completely package-free beyond the paper bag your share is divided into. When you pick up your weekly/monthly share, dump your items into a tote and return the paper bag or try to convince your CSA to adopt reusable totes.
– Local breweries are popping up everywhere! Support them and save by purchasing beer in their reusable growlers.
– Grow your own food! Fresh herbs are almost never used up entirely before they go bad when purchased from the store in plastic. If you buy a $2.99 container of basil or mint once a month, the potted plant priced at $9 will pay for itself in 1 season. Fresh herbs definitely make for great kitchen décor as well.
– Since you’re only buying fresh, package free food, you are only purchasing what you can use in a week. While bulk shopping at a big box store like Sam’s Club or Costco seems like it will save you money, you will end up consuming more than needed or (worse!) throwing away food. Our December exercise in only purchasing for one week cut our grocery expenses in half! And if you are like most Americans spend more or equal to your rent/mortgage on food, that’s a lot of savings.
Bathroom, Toiletries, & Wellness
– As seen in the kitchen, simplifying the number of products you use means less money spent.
– Feminine products create a lot of waste and cost a lot over the years. Reusable pads and liners can be handmade or purchased for as low as $3/pad. Menstrual cups are also gaining a lot of popularity and are priced around $40. Since you only need one cup and it will last for years, if cared for properly, it will pay for itself after 4-6 cycles.
– Cosmetic products made from bulk bin ingredients are certain to contain less irritants and cost a lot less. Even the cheapest mattifying powder priced at $3 can’t compare to the low cost of cornstarch or arrowroot powder priced at $3 for 16 oz.
– Unpacked bars of soaps for hands, body, shaving, and shampooing are priced at $5/bar and can be even cheaper if made by hand.
– Expensive pharmacy items that can only be purchased in multiples of at least 40 can be phased out in favor of home remedies. Honey for allergies and small lacerations can be treated with honey. Ginger and peppermint work great for nausea. A neti pot works loads better (and is much cheaper) than Mucinex. (Note – home remedies are not always a substitute for medical care from a professional)
Bedroom & Wardrobe
– Using your bedroom as a sleeping sanctuary versus another entertainment space means less furniture and media that needs to be purchased. In a world full of laptops, tablets, and smartphones, one television in a living room is enough.
– Applying a capsule wardrobe will allow you to sell off unused clothing and get more costs per wear out of what you already own and love.
– When you do need to add some new-to-you pieces or replace well-worn items, opt for secondhand or vintage. These items are always slightly worn and have proven to stand up to use. Even with a costly investment piece, you never know how well it will stand up to wear until you’ve owned it for awhile; consignment shops are full of proven pieces. A BCBG dress priced at $499 retail can potentially be found for $60 in a secondhand shop.
– Repurpose items once they are past their current use. An old t-shirt can be cut up and used as tissues or rags. A pair of jeans or pants with a hole in the knee can be patched or hemmed into shorts.
Housekeeping & Maintenance
– With laundry detergent being one of the most expensive household cleaning products families purchase, you can spend $20 making enough detergent for 500 loads of laundry versus $6 for 50 loads of laundry from your normal name brand detergent
– The majority of your cleaning needs can easily be met with just 3 simple ingredients – vinegar, baking soda, and lemon. All of these items can easily be purchased in bulk or in glass recycling containers (the vinegar).
– A more minimal home décor style means less waste spent on purchases and their packaging and less cleaning. Hooks and wall shelves bought from a hardware or secondhand store are just as good of a storage solution for coats, bags, and media.
– Plants make great home décor, are cheaper than fake versions, and cleanse the air for free! A console table decorated with a garage sale mirror and a Chinese evergreen are a lot more attractive than a table full of tchotchkes.
– Hire a professional to design a pest- and drought-proof landscape around your home. While the costs upfront will be higher, the savings on watering, fending off deer, and not having to replace annuals will save you time and money in the long run.
Workspace & Junk Mail
– If you and your partner have separate workspaces, combine those areas and combine your resources. One printer, one computer, and one task light are cheaper than two (or more) of everything.
– Stop buying multiples of pens and pencils and purchase refillable options. Do you really need 12 cheap Bics in which you lose half of them when you can have one real nice pen that you keep in your pocket or on a chain around your neck?
– Hold on to any packing materials you receive in the mail to reuse later. Boxes and tissue paper can be folding flat to fit in small spaces. Shipping services will charge you for the shipping materials so you’ll save anywhere from $2-20 by packing it yourself.
– When you decide to upgrade your electronics, trade them in for a significant discount. Apple and affiliated services will accept everything to recycle, often providing you with a gift card for their products. Even a 5-6 year old laptop could provide you with $30 towards a new product.
Kids & School
– While this can be a difficult area, work with teachers to allow your student to bring used supplies instead of fresh new packs of markers and pens. Binder clips and portfolio can serve the same purpose as a paper folder or stapler. Crayons can be substituted for highlighters.
– Choose your activities wisely. Enrolling a child in a sport for every season can be overwhelming and doesn’t provide them a chance to explore their own interests. When you do have to buy sporting goods head to secondhand stores like Play It Again Sports for gently used products. These same stores will buy goods back from you if they still in good condition.
– When the holidays roll around, family is always eager to buy more toys and clothing for your kids. If you feel your home is already full of these items, ask that they donate to a college fund instead. Considering compound interest, a donation every Christmas instead of a new toy or outfit could pay for a semester of tuition in 18 years.
– Skip the videogame consoles for an outdoor activity that will not only enrich your child’s mind, but their health. You’ll save $200+ now, but they’ll save countless dollars later after creating a good exercise foundation at a young age.
– Take the plunge into the world of cloth diapers. When I was pregnant with the twins, I calculated that 24 cloth diapers would pay for themselves in 4 months. I was read to invest in a few pairs, but ultimately my husband decided it would be too difficult for him to manage. And since he was going to be their primary caregiver after I went back to work, we opted for biodegradable diapers instead.
Holidays & Gifts
– After you’ve jumped on the Zero Waste Train, gifts for friends and loved ones could easily turn into an opportunity to teach them how to be less wasteful themselves. But resist the urge to buy everyone a “zero waste starter kit” unless they’ve expressed a lot of interest in the concept themselves.
– Gift experiences and time together versus actual physical things. Consumables like homemade candles and cookies well as well for those that live far away.
– While plastic Christmas trees and wreaths seem like less wasteful purchases because you can reuse them every year, the costs to produce, ship, and package them are higher than the $39.99 price tag you might see at Wal-Mart. Many of the PVC parts off-gas hormone disruptors which can lead to later health concerns. A $10 evergreen wreath purchased from a local nursery is less of heath risk, smells fantastic, and can be composted after the holidays. And you’ll only need one to make a big statement.
– Potted Christmas trees are becoming more common, but can’t be found nationwide yet. Instead choose another evergreen to keep around the house, like a topiary, which can later to put front and center and decorated. You’ll spend $20 on a plant that you’ll maybe have to replace after 5 years depending on how quickly the species grows.
Out & About
– Choose restaurants based on their serving policies. Are drinks served in glass versus plastic? Are napkins paper or cloth? Once you’ve selected a few establishments that meet your zero waste goals, set aside one meal a week to go out to eat. One meal per week at a nice restaurant is cheaper than a couple meals a week from fast food. Or even comparable depending on pricing in your area.
– Pack a snack and an empty water bottle before you head to the airport. Your chances of getting a zero waste meal at an airport are slim. This is also a good opportunity to finish any leftovers before you leave on vacation. Airport prices are similar to theme park dining so you know you will save immensely by bringing your own food.
One of the biggest arguments I hear against going zero waste is that it is “only for rich people” or “I’m too busy”. Well, I’ve already established that you save money by using less. But you also will save yourself so much time. Belonging to a farmer’s coop means less time in the produce section. Giving an experience as a gift means less time browsing the mall or online shop. Streamlining the products you use and the goods in your home adds up to plenty of saved hours. Let’s say I spend two minutes every day picking out an outfit from an immense closet full of clothing. Know that I have a capsule wardrobe I spend 10 seconds picking out what to wear. I have now provided myself with 9 extra hours in my year – NINE HOURS! And this is just one area of your life. I definitely encourage you set a couple hours aside at the beginning of the new year to read “Zero Waste Home” so you can start saving yourself time and money as well as save some of the resources our environment has provided for us.
This book is full of PLENTY of great zero waste tips, but I would love to hear what you do in your daily life. Thanks for reading!